2015 College Football Preview

With Labor Day lurking on the back side of the weekend, that means college football is back!  The season begins tonight with several games, with the first being a South Carolina-North Carolina matchup on a neutral field in Charlotte, and the most notable being a matchup between Minnesota and 2nd-ranked TCU.

This weekend’s best matchup is between top-ranked Ohio State and Virginia Tech, after the Hokies beat the Buckeyes last year.  This game is Monday night, and will be an excellent way to end the holiday weekend, and to begin a season full of excellent matchups on the gridiron.

This season is year two of the College Football Playoff era, and after the playoff’s exciting inaugural season, we know better what to expect this year.  One-loss and even two-loss teams aren’t necessarily going to be out of the playoff picture, outright conference championships are very important to the selection committee (Baylor and TCU shared the Big 12 title, and both missed the playoff) and a team that gets hot late (like Ohio State last year) can sneak in the playoff then pull a pair of upsets to win the title.

There are a lot of different opinions floating around within the sports media world on who has the best talent or the most manageable schedule, and who has the best shot in general to make the playoff, and to win it.  These opinions very widely vary, as there are teams some have in the playoff that I think will lose three or four games, and vice versa (one team that more than one writer has in the playoff isn’t even in my top 25).

With seemingly everyone thinking they have a playoff shot (and why shouldn’t they; everyone is currently undefeated), keep this in mind: in 2014, a third-string quarterback led Ohio State to three straight upsets to win the title.  In 2013, a freshman quarterback few had heard of before the season named Jameis Winston won the Heisman and led Florida State to glory, beating an Auburn team which had been 3-9 the year before and had two completely miraculous wins.  You never know which team that is unheralded in August could be immortalized by January.

All that being said, these probably are way off, but here are my projections for the upcoming season.

ACC

The ACC produced the national champion in 2013, and a playoff team last year, although both accomplishments came from Florida State.  But make no mistake; this league is more depth than just the Seminoles, with the last two Orange Bowls being won by Clemson and Georgia Tech.  It is those two programs which should headline the ACC race this season.

Championship Game- Clemson over Georgia Tech

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson (12-1, 7-1 ACC)
The Tigers are primed for a sustained run of very competitive seasons, and if quarterback DeShaun Watson can stay healthy, and the team’s defense featuring a lot of talented recruits is as good as advertised, they can be playoff contenders.

2. Florida State (10-2, 6-2)
After a national title in 2013 and an appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff last year, the Seminoles lose top NFL draft pick Jameis Winston, as well as an array of talent around him.  The team is still very talented, as Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson replaces Winston, and can contend in the ACC, but don’t expect another national title shot.

3. Louisville (9-3, 6-2)
The Cardinals return just seven starters from a nine-win 2014 campaign, but a favorable schedule and the offensive mind of Bobby Petrino should still have them among the upper half of the ACC.

4. NC State (8-4, 4-4)
Coming off of a five-win improvement from 2013 to 2014, the Wolfpack have a very experienced roster, led by senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and could be a dark horse to pull an upset or two and even to contend for the ACC title.

5. Boston College (5-7, 2-6)
The Eagles should once again have a strong defense that keeps them in a lot of games, but an inexperienced offense, particularly up front, may mean they struggle to score points when they need them.

6. Wake Forest (5-7, 2-6)
Dave Clawson’s rebuild continues for the Demon Deacons; after a historically bad offensive season a year ago, there is more talent after the highest-ranked recruiting class in school history, but a lack of both depth and experience means they are still at least a year away from the upper echelon of the league.

7. Syracuse (4-8, 1-7)
Just six starters return from a 3-9 team a year ago, and just two on defense, meaning it could really be an uphill battle for the Orange.  With administrative changes in Syracuse’s athletics department, Scott Shafer could be coaching for his job.

Coastal Division

1. Georgia Tech (10-3, 7-1 ACC)
The defending Coastal Division and Orange Bowl champions lost some depth in the backfield in their excellent option rushing attack, but retain quarterback Justin Thomas, a dark horse Heisman candidate.  A sketchy defense should be improved enough to return the Jackets to the ACC title game.

2. Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2)
The only team to beat national champion Ohio State last year had a disappointing 7-6 finish, but has a more experienced roster this year and a conference schedule that avoids the upper-tier teams in inter-division play should bode well for the Hokies to return to contention in the Coastal.

3. Pittsburgh (7-5, 4-4)
Pat Narduzzi is the new Panthers coach after an excellent run as defensive coordinator at Michigan State, and should improve a previously average unit.  Running back James Conner may be the best in the ACC, and has Pitt projected here as part of a large tie for third in the division.

4. North Carolina (7-5, 4-4)
Offense wasn’t the problem last year for a team that lost the Quick Lane Bowl to finish 6-7, and nine starters return on that side of the ball.  Last year the defense struggled mightily, but former Auburn coach Gene Chizik is on as defensive coordinator to try to fix that problem.

5. Duke (8-4, 4-4)
The Blue Devils are now competitive with consistency as coach David Cutcliffe enters his eighth season at the school, and there is some continuity on defense, particularly in the secondary, but replacing Anthony Boone at quarterback will be easier said than done.

6. Miami (4-8, 2-6)
Quarterback Brad Kaaya returns after 26 touchdown passes last year.  Otherwise, there is a lot of inexperience across the board for the Hurricanes, losing Duke Johnson, Phillip Dorsett, and Ereck Flowers to the NFL.  Coach Al Golden may be coaching for his job, and without a lot to work with.

7. Virginia (2-10, 1-7)
Speaking of coaches on the hot seat, Mike London is 23-38 at Virginia, and with only nine returning starters, depth and experience will likely be an issue, and the schedule isn’t very easy either.

BIG TEN

The defending national champions reside in the Big Ten after Ohio State’s incredible run to the title last year, and the Buckeyes are favorites to repeat.  While many say the tradition-laden Big Ten has been down the last few years, and while the bottom of the league has some struggling teams, the top half of the Big Ten is very solid.  I have Ohio State projected as undefeated, but the league is good enough that there’s no guarantees.

Championship Game- Ohio State over Wisconsin

East Division

1. Ohio State (13-0, 8-0 Big Ten)
The Buckeyes were underdogs in their last three games on their way to last year’s national title, but this year, with most of the principles back from the championship, they aren’t underdogs anymore.  There are literally four or five potential Heisman candidates on the roster, regardless of who out of Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett starts at quarterback, and have all the tools to repeat as national champions.

2. Michigan State (10-2, 6-2)
Connor Cook is one of the more talented quarterbacks in the country, and leads a team which is strong in the trenches and has a very solid blend of youth and experience.  The only team to play both teams in last year’s national title game, Ohio State and Oregon, plays both again, but otherwise the schedule is manageable.

3. Penn State (9-2, 5-3)
In year two of the James Franklin era for the Nittany Lions, junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the best up-and-coming passers in the nation.  If they can just turn some of their close losses from a 7-6 season last year into wins this year, this could be a good year in State College.

4. Michigan (7-5, 4-4)
One of the most buzz-worthy programs through the offseason has been the Wolverines, after hiring former Stanford and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to his alma mater.  There are holes on the roster, but the energy Harbaugh brings to the players and the fan base should help the Wolverines improve from last year’s disappointing 5-7 finish.

5. Maryland (6-6, 3-5)
After moving to the Big Ten last year, the Terrapins finished 7-6, with a 4-4 league record in the conference which produced the national champion.  Maryland is bigger this year, but is also younger, and travels to both Ohio State and Michigan State; don’t expect anything special, but they should still be in a bowl game.

6. Indiana (5-7, 2-6)
Indiana isn’t exactly a “football school”, but Kevin Wilson is 14-34 in four seasons with the Hoosiers, a record that may need to improve for him to stay.  With a senior at quarterback in Nate Sudfeld, and a lot of experience up front, this team can be competitive, but may still lack the talent and the depth to stay around the .500 mark in a “Power Five” league.

7. Rutgers (5-7, 1-7)
Last year the Scarlet Knights were 8-5, surprising for their first season in the Big Ten, but four of their five losses were by at least 18, 37, 37, and 42.  Only eight starters return from that team are back, meaning depth and experience will be an issue, and those big losses to the Big Ten powers may unfortunately become even more common.

West Division

1. Wisconsin (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten)
Former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has returned to take over as head coach, after a stint at Pittsburgh, and inherits an experienced roster that won the division last year, including quarterback Joel Stave, who was recruited by Chryst.  After their opener against Alabama, the schedule is favorable for them to win their fourth division title in five years.

2. Minnesota (9-3, 6-2)
The Golden Gophers have improved each year under coach Jerry Kill, who was Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2014.  Most of the defense returns this year, as does quarterback Mitch Leidner, and with a favorable schedule in which they host Wisconsin and avoid the projected top three in the East, they should at least contend in the West.

3. Nebraska (9-3, 5-3)
Bo Pelini never won less than nine games in a season as Nebraska coach, but was fired in the offseason, and surprisingly replaced by former Oregon State coach Mike Riley.  This roster has a talent level we’re used to seeing in Lincoln, and the Cornhuskers should continue to contend for a division title, although they haven’t won a conference title since 1999.

4. Northwestern (6-6, 4-4)
The Wildcats struggled last year to a 5-7 record, but most of that team is back.  Where experience is lacking, however, is at the skill positions.  Pat Fitzgerald is in his 10th year in Evanston, and is one of the more underrated coaches in the country for the job he has done with the program; he should have the Wildcats bowl eligible again this year.

5. Iowa (6-6, 3-5)
Last year, Iowa, with some experience and a favorable schedule, was my sleeper to make a run at the College Football Playoff, but instead finished 7-6, and over the last three years is 19-19 overall.  With only eight returning starters, there’s not a lot to suggest this is the year the Hawkeyes escape from Big Ten mediocrity.

6. Illinois (4-8, 1-7)
Coach Tim Beckman was fired last week, just a week before the start of the season.  That leaves a team that already had a less than stellar roster, even with 14 returning starters, trying to move on from the firing with interim Bill Cubit.  This won’t be a good combination for the Fighting Illini.

7. Purdue (2-10, 1-7)
Coach Darrell Hazell is just 4-20 in two seasons, and has yet to win a home conference game in West Lafayette.  There is some experience on the roster, but not a lot of so-called proven playmakers, so improving on last year’s 3-9 record will be difficult.

BIG 12

The most disappointed conference last year had to be the Big 12, after two of its teams were arguably snubbed from the College Football Playoff.  This year, both of those teams should contend for the playoff again, but then there is a big gap to the second tier of teams, all of whom are good but not great, as you will see below.

(there are no divisions in the Big 12, and no league championship game)

1. TCU (12-0, 9-0 Big 12)
10 starters return to an offense that was ridiculously good a year ago, including my (completely meaningless) preseason Heisman pick, quarterback Trevone Boykin.  Coach Gary Patterson is one of the best at getting the most out of his players, and if that happens, the Horned Frogs can make a run at a national title.

2. Baylor (11-1, 8-1)
The Bears also have plenty of experience, with eight returning starters on both sides of the ball.  Quarterback Bryce Petty is gone to the NFL, but junior Seth Russell steps in, and should have a solid year with all the experience around him.  The biggest hurdle for Baylor: a November 27th trip to TCU.

3. Texas (7-5, 5-4)
Charlie Strong led Texas to a 6-7 campaign in his first year in Austin, with the offense averaging just 21.4 points per game.  This year, while the offense should be improved with quarterback Tyrone Swoopes having more experience and more depth around him, the Longhorns have to face Notre Dame, TCU, and Baylor on the road, meaning they are better than their projected record looks.

4. Oklahoma State (8-5, 5-4)
A very young Cowboys team last year finished 7-6, nearly beat Florida State, and upset Oklahoma.  This year, 14 starters are back, plus quarterback Mason Rudolph, who didn’t play until the 10th game last year, but provided a spark that led to the Cowboys strong finish.  This season should be an improvement, and with only five senior starters, next season should be really good.

5. Kansas State (8-4, 5-4)
Quarterback Jake Waters is the biggest missing piece from last year’s Wildcats roster, but not the only one, as only 11 starters return.  However, coach Bill Snyder is excellent at fixing inexperience and getting a lot out of his players, plus the Wildcats play TCU and Baylor at home, and all their road games are winnable.

6. Oklahoma (7-5, 5-4)
The Sooners have one of the nation’s best receivers in Sterling Shepard, but that is one of the few sure things.  The roster has talent, as Oklahoma always does, but there is a big element of the unknown regarding that talent.  Baker Mayfield won the quarterback job over returning starter Trevor Knight, who had been inconsistent, but that presents yet another doubt.  A middle of the pack finish is all to expect here, anything more should be considered a bonus.

7. West Virginia (7-5, 4-5)
While the Mountaineers lose quarterback Clint Trickett and receiver Kevin White, among others, the roster is mostly an experienced one in coach Dana Holgorsen’s fifth season, but the schedule is difficult, including road games at TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, and Kansas State.  They should be competitive, but not contenders.

8. Texas Tech (5-7, 3-6)
Offense wasn’t the problem in 2014 for the Red Raiders, but defense was; they allowed 45 points or more five times, and 82 to TCU.  This year the defense has more experience, and the offense returns most of the principles as well, although coach Kliff Kingsbury still has not named a starting quarterback.  While experience isn’t as big of an issue as before, this team still cannot quite match the talent level of those above them in the Big 12.

9. Iowa State (2-10, 1-8)
The Cyclones had a mix of close losses and blowouts in a 2-10 season last year, receiving the most publicity for a 55-3 season ending loss to then third-ranked TCU.  Only 10 starters return from a year ago, and while coach Paul Rhoads may be coaching for his job, that may not be enough motivation to make up for what this team lacks and remain competitive.

10. Kansas (1-11, 0-9)
Charlie Weis was fired last year as the Jayhawks’ coach, but has left a mess for new coach David Beaty to try to fix.  Only six starters are back from last year’s 3-9 campaign, meaning things could be very rough in Lawrence in Beaty’s maiden campaign.

PAC-12

The Pac-12 has, somewhat quietly, become the second best football conference in the nation, and it’s not just Oregon, who lost last year’s national title game.  The Pac-12 South is probably the second best division in the sport (behind the SEC West), with USC, UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State all having a shot at not just the conference title, but possibly the College Football Playoff.

Championship Game- Oregon over USC

North Division

1. Oregon (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12)
The Ducks lost a lot of talent from last year’s national runner-up effort, including Heisman winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, but have reloaded with a new crop of players who fit their system well, including Eastern Washington quarterback transfer Vernon Adams.  There is still enough talent here to win a Pac-12 title and contend for the College Football Playoff.

2. Stanford (7-5, 5-4)
Over the last several years the Cardinal have turned into perennial contenders in the North, and some have picked them as a dark horse to win the league.  However, the defense, which has been Stanford’s strength the last few years, has a lot of inexperience, and their inter-division opponents are USC, UCLA, and Arizona.  This team could be really good, but I have them finishing closer to the middle of the pack.

3. California (5-7, 3-6)
The Bears were 5-7 last year, and return seven starters to a team that ranked 10th in scoring, but return only four players on defense, which was their weakness to begin with last year, allowing 56 or more points three times, and 42 or more five times.  The defense likely won’t be much better, and the schedule isn’t any easier than last year either, and while the Bears could be more competitive, they’re still not quite contenders with the likes of Oregon and Stanford.

4. Washington (4-8, 2-7)
Coach Chris Peterson’s first season with the Huskies saw them finish 8-6, and play fairly competitive games with the upper echelon teams in the conference.  This year, however, the team returns only nine starters, starts a freshman quarterback, and plays a difficult schedule.  This should be considered a rebuilding year, and reaching a bowl game would be quite an accomplishment.

5. Washington State (3-9, 1-8)
While there is a moderate level of returning experience for the Cougars and polarizing coach Mike Leach, depth may be an issue once again.  Quarterback Luke Falk filled in well when Connor Halliday went down last year, but the question remains if he can lead the team a full season in the Pac-12.  With some holes around him, they may struggle.

6. Oregon State (3-9, 1-8)
The good news for the Beavers is they surprised the college football world by hiring coach Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin after Mike Riley had departed for Nebraska.  The bad news that, after a 5-7 season a year ago, with a tough schedule, a very inexperienced defense, and a freshman quarterback, it will be an uphill climb in 2015, although the future under Andersen looks bright.

South Division

1. USC (10-3, 8-1 Pac-12)
Things were going well for coach Steve Sarkisian until he displayed some erratic behavior at a booster event (which he later attributed to “a mixture of medication and alcohol”, saying he would seek help).  He did lead the Trojans to a 9-4 record in his first season at the school, and has an very talented roster coming back, including a potential Heisman candidate at quarterback, Cody Kessler, and a very experienced defense.  Assuming the players can overcome the adversity of the media swarm around Sarkisian, this team is more than capable of winning a very tough division.

2. Arizona (10-2, 7-2)
Last year, the Wildcats were one of the better surprises in the nation, with a 10-4 record, and reaching the Fiesta Bowl before losing to Boise State.  While only 11 starters return, the best players, such as quarterback Anu Solomon, receiver Samajie Grant, and linebacker Scooby Wright all return, meaning this team should once again contend to win the South.

3. UCLA (10-2, 7-2)
17 starters are back from a 10-3 season, which could have been even better if not for hard-fought losses to Utah and Oregon, but there one glaring difference.  Quarterback Brett Hundley is gone, and his replacement is freshman Josh Rosen, who will be thrown into the fire with his first three conference games: at Arizona, Arizona State, and at Stanford.

4. Arizona State (9-3, 6-3)
The Sun Devils have improved every year under Todd Graham, including a 10-3 campaign last year.  They still have a tremendous amount of talent, but only five starters return on offense, and only one at a “skill position”.  From late September to late October the schedule is absolutely brutal, something they’ll have to overcome to return to the Pac-12 Championship Game, which they reached in 2013.

5. Utah (7-5, 4-5)
The Utes had a solid 9-4 season last year, although they started 6-1 before a 3-3 finish.  Just 11 starters are back, although among them are a solid quarterback in Travis Wilson.  However, in this division, any and all holes will be exploited by such tough opponents.  This team isn’t bad, but their schedule doesn’t do them any favors, and the result should be a mediocre-looking record.

6. Colorado (6-7, 2-7)
Last year, the Buffaloes were winless in conference play for the first time in 99 years, struggling to a 2-10 overall record.  However, four of their nine conference losses were by five points or less, with two in double overtime.  With most of their starters back, the Buffaloes should turn at least some of those into wins, although being in the difficult South division doesn’t help a team trying to get out of the cellar.

SEC

The consensus is that the SEC is the best conference in the nation, although the league hasn’t won a national championship the last two seasons after their seven consecutive titles from 2006-12.  Some say the SEC teams will beat up on each other (particularly in the West, where all seven teams have top 25 capability), but I believe the league will put a team in the College Football Playoff once again.

(Additional note on the SEC West: all seven teams are good enough to win the division, so if you want to draw the names out of a hat, you may pick the eventual order of finish better than I will.)

Championship Game- Alabama over Georgia

West Division

1. Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC)
Even with only nine starters back, and only two on offense, a large portion of the media is picking Alabama to win the SEC again.  Coach Nick Saban is very good at reloading after losing NFL-level talent, so most around Tuscaloosa aren’t worried about the lack of starting experience with the Crimson Tide.  Saban, interestingly enough, has yet to name a starting quarterback, although he didn’t name one until very late in the process last year and they still advanced to the College Football Playoff.  Not winning the SEC and reaching the playoff would be a disappointment.

2. Auburn (9-3, 5-3)
Some have picked Auburn to reach the playoff this year, as they would have if the format had existed two years ago, but I disagree.  The team is certainly very talented, and Gus Malzahn is very good at having his teams prepared, only 11 starters are back, and any holes will certainly be exposed in the SEC West.  Then again, not much was expected out of Auburn in 2010 or 2013, and they reached the BCS title game both times.

3. Ole Miss (9-3, 5-3)
Ole Miss had their best season in years last year, as Hugh Freeze’s system is working well as he now begins his fourth season.  A school record-setter at quarterback in Bo Wallace is gone, but Clemson transfer Chad Kelly will start, and is on an offense returning nine starters.  This team could win most of the divisions in college football, but is picked third in this one.

4. LSU (9-3, 5-3)
The Tigers return a lot of experience, and some of those players in that group who were inconsistent in 2014 should be improved, such as quarterback Anthony Jennings.  Leonard Fournette is one of the best raw talents at running back in the country, but getting Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss in three straight weeks in November doesn’t help, with two of those games on the road.

5. Arkansas (9-3, 5-3)
Few teams improved more last year from the start of the season to the end of it than the Razorbacks, whose 7-6 season included late-season shutouts of both LSU and Ole Miss.  Nine starters are back on offense from that team, and while the schedule is moderately tough (this is the SEC, though), the Hogs could very well be sleepers to contend for the division title.

6. Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4)
Kyle Allen took over at quarterback for Kenny Hill last November, and did so well that he took over the job and became one of the best up-and-coming quarterbacks in the country, and Hill transferred.  Six starters are back on both sides of the ball, in addition to Allen, but for the Aggies to compete in the SEC West they will have to improve their defense, which was last in the SEC in 2014.

7. Mississippi State (7-5, 3-5)
Last year the Bulldogs had a season no one in Starkville will ever forget, reaching #1 for the first time in school history, and reaching the Orange Bowl after losing one too many games to make the playoff.  Only seven starters are back though, although quarterback Dak Prescott is one of them and is poised for another great season.  The lack of experience is likely to show, although the Bulldogs do get Alabama, LSU, and rival Ole Miss at home.

East Division

1. Georgia (10-3, 7-1 SEC)
Returning six starters on each side of the ball and filling the gaps with young players doesn’t generally scream “national contender”, but after Georgia finished 10-3 a year ago in an injury-plagued campaign, and with sophomore running back and potential Heisman contender Nick Chubb having no one in front of him now, the Bulldogs could have a special year.  However, while they host Alabama, they have to play Auburn and Georgia Tech on the road.

2. Missouri (9-3, 5-3)
The Tigers have won back-to-back SEC East titles without being picked to win the division by hardly anyone either year, so perhaps this pick is too low, as coach Gary Pinkel is very good at getting the most out of the talent he has.  Their experience is above average, and quaterback Maty Mauk is battle-tested.  One hurdle the Tigers do have is that they play divisional favorite Georgia on the road.

3. Tennessee (8-4, 4-4)
17 starters are back for the Volunteers, and nine of them are on offense, including dual-threat quarterback Josh Dobbs, and a talented supporting cast around him.  The defense, which had its ups and downs last year, should be strong as well, and things could really come together in coach Butch Jones’s third season at the helm in Knoxville.  The Vols do have to tackle Georgia at home and Alabama on the road in back-to-back games, but with a bye week in between.

4. South Carolina (6-6, 3-5)
Last year the Gamecocks’ problem was defense, plain and simple, particularly late in close games.  And while the defense won’t be the team’s strength this year either, new coordinator Jon Hoke should lead to some improvement.  Only four offensive starters are back, but Steve Spurrier has never struggled to use his players to find offense, and can use versatile receiver Pharoh Cooper to help score enough points to remain competitive, and win enough to reach a bowl game.

5. Kentucky (6-6, 3-5)
Kentucky has improved each year so far under third year coach Mark Stoops, and this year should be no different.  Last year the Wildcats started 5-1, before losing six straight to miss a bowl game for the fourth straight year.  Six starters return on both sides of the ball, and the team as a whole is more experienced and more disciplined than in years past.  Expect a much more competitive team, and one who should qualify for a bowl trip.

6. Florida (5-7, 2-6)
Coach Will Muschamp was fired after last season, and this is a program in transition as Jim McElwain takes over.  Sophomore Treon Harris is an up-and-coming quarterback, but the offense only returns four starters, and will likely struggle.  The defense has experienced starters, but a lot of freshman on the two-deep.  There is talent on the roster, but I think expecting the Gators to contend in the East in McElwain’s first year is a bit too much to ask.

7. Vanderbilt (2-10, 0-8)
For a program that progressed so much in the three years under coach James Franklin, last year, in the Commodores first season under Derek Mason, they really took a step backwards, going winless in the SEC, losing by less than 10 only once.  Most of the team is back for another year, and they should be at least moderately improved, but whether the improvement becomes wins instead of closer losses is another story.

Notable Independents

Notre Dame (10-2)
This season, the Irish have the best collection of talent they have had since reaching the national title game in 2012, including 10 returning starters on defense.  Southpaw quarterback Malik Zaire has the starting job full-time after Everett Golson’s transfer, and while Notre Dame has one of the tougher schedules in the country, they have the talent to play that schedule well.

BYU (8-4)
The Cougars finished 8-5 a season ago, but the season ended with a postgame brawl after a Miami Beach Bowl loss to Memphis.  Outside of senior quarterback Taysom Hill the team is very young, and they will receive a baptism by fire in their first four games: at Nebraska, Boise State, at UCLA, and at Michigan.

National Forecast

Preseason Top 25 (projected record)

College Football Playoff
1. Ohio State (13-0, 8-0 Big Ten)
2. TCU (12-0, 9-0 Big 12)
3. Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC)
4. Oregon (12-1, 8-1 Pac-12)

5. Clemson (12-1, 7-1 ACC)
6. Baylor (11-1, 7-1 Big 12)
7. Georgia (10-3, 7-1 SEC)
8. Georgia Tech (10-3, 7-1 ACC)
9. Michigan State (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten)
10. Arizona (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12)
11. USC (10-3, 8-1 Pac-12)
12. Auburn (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
13. Ole Miss (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
14. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
15. Notre Dame (10-2)
16. Florida State (10-2, 6-2 ACC)
17. Wisconsin (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten)
18. UCLA (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12)
19. Arizona State (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
20. Arkansas (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
21. Louisville (9-3, 6-2 ACC)
22. Missouri (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
23. Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2 ACC)
24. Boise State (12-2, 7-1 Mountain West)
25. Tennessee (8-4, 4-4 SEC)

Top 10 Games You Don’t Want To Miss

In addition to the normal rivalry games (although a couple of those are on this list), there are some matchups that have unique storylines, or may help write the plot for this season as a whole.

September 7- Ohio State at Virginia Tech
The defending national champion Buckeyes, favored to win another title, will be looking to avenge their only loss from 2014, on the road in their season opener, against an improved Hokies squad.

September 19- Ole Miss at Alabama
Alabama under Nick Saban has historically been very good against opponents who beat them the year before.  The Rebels were the Crimson Tide’s only regular season loss last year.

October 3- Notre Dame at Clemson
This is the first meeting between the two programs since 1979, and with both having very talented teams, it could make or break the playoff chances for both sides.

October 3- Alabama at Georgia
Due to division alignment, these border rivals haven’t played a regular season game since 2008, although they did meet in the phenomenal 2012 SEC title game.  They could potentially meet twice this season, as both are favored to win their division and play for the SEC championship in Atlanta.

October 10- Georgia Tech at Clemson
This rivalry game is a potential preview of the ACC Championship Game.  If that is the case, one would likely have to beat the other both times to make a playoff bid a reality.

October 17- USC at Notre Dame
One of the sport’s biggest rivalries could also lend to one of its bigger games of the season, as both have potential playoff aspirations.  The Trojans embarrassed the Irish last year, 49-14, but Notre Dame should be better this time around, and the game is in South Bend.

November 7- Florida State at Clemson
If the Seminoles get past Georgia Tech two weeks before this game, they may come into the biggest test of their season undefeated.  The winner of this game has played in the ACC Championship Game six straight years.

November 21- Michigan State at Ohio State
In the four-year history of the Big Ten Championship Game, these two programs have four title game appearances between them (they played each other in 2013 before the divisions were re-aligned).  The winner of this game is likely to add to that total, and may be thrust into the playoff picture as well.

November 21- USC at Oregon
These are arguably the two most recognizable programs in the Pac-12, but they haven’t met on the field in three years.  That will change, in a game late in the season that could affect who gets in the league’s championship game.  However, since they are in different divisions, this could be a title game preview as well.

November 27- Baylor at TCU
This battle of two Christian schools from Texas who both used to be “cellar dwellers” has grown into the biggest Big 12 game of the season.  Both are in the top five in the preseason AP poll, and have the playoff as a goal, and both could come into the game undefeated.  The game should be big, and could be crazy too, as evidenced by the 61-58 score in Baylor’s win last year.

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2 thoughts on “2015 College Football Preview

  1. Pingback: College Football Power Rankings for Week Six | Stiles On Sports

  2. Pingback: 2016 College Football Preview | Stiles On Sports

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